Bill targets animal shelters

Pound seizures » HB107 would make dog, cat transfers to research institutions optional.
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When Dan Alix returned to his Salt Lake City home from a short vacation 18 months ago, he found the family's cherished beagle, 16-year-old Chance, had run away.

After a frantic search through shelters around the Salt Lake Valley, Chance turned up in a kennel at the Midvale Animal Shelter, still wearing his collar and identifying tags. An irate Alix confronted shelter staffers, wondering why they hadn't called him.

``They said, `We don't have time. We're too busy for that,' '' Alix said.

The Avenues resident has been asked to testify in favor of HB107, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, which would alter rules for handling animals once they are left at Utah's 80 or so public shelters.

The bill, now awaiting a hearing before the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, targets the state's pound seizure law, which requires publicly funded shelters to hand over animals to research and educational institutions.

Only Utah and Minnesota have laws requiring shelters to surrender dogs and cats for research purposes. The University of Utah currently is the only institution certified for pound seizures, and it receives about 150 to 200 dogs and cats yearly under the statute, from shelters outside the Salt Lake Valley.

Pound seizures are banned in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and shelters in Salt Lake County have refused for many years to participate, saying it violates their core mission as a sanctuary for abandoned pets.

HB107 would make pound seizures optional for shelters and extend the holding period for sheltered animals to a minimum of five days, even if a shorter time frame is specified in county ordinances.

The measure also would require shelter operators to make ``reasonable efforts'' to locate the animal's rightful owner before transferring animals, including a check for tags, brands or identifying microchips.

Seelig said it is not her goal to end the practice of pound seizures.

``This bill is about local-government control and personal-property protection,'' she said. ``It reflects current practice and facilitates communication between the university and local governments.''

Seelig also said the bill had support from the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

U. officials have argued in the past that pound seizures are a vital cost-saving part of the school's biomedical research and that making the transfers optional might open participating shelters to protests by animal-rights groups.

But Jack Taylor, U. director of animal resources, said Thursday the university is taking a neutral stance on HB107.